OK, people – here you go. Today’s mainstream sniff-a-thon. We report, you decide. Because perfume people NEVER fall for stuff like brand loyalty or hot models.
OK. Almost never.
My friend Mike Perez was the guy who introduced me to the concept of “mall frags”, and with the specific example of Banana Republic as having some of the best of the bunch. I had to agree immediately – their Black Walnut was one of my favorite pre-perfumisto wears. So when I’m in the mall, I steer my wife to one of her favorite clothes stores. BR has always specialized in a certain exotic, coastal look. A subset of which might be described as a post-Imperial British-inspired, Japanese military Pacific campaign-influenced, analog of the Hollister look. With high heels and an open-necked shirt under the cargo-cult jacket. Whatever. She likes it, it looks good on her, and BR HAS FRAGS.
If you know what I’m sayin’.
Well, I’ve done all the usual suspects, but this time I caught a new one – a men’s aquatic called Wildblue. Had to sniff it. And while I won’t be picking up a bottle for myself, I can highly recommend this one to people who frequent Banana Republic, and who gravitate to the sea-side aspect of the BR look. You know who I’m talking about, Mister OMG-I-Can’t-Believe-There-Are-Actually-Size-34-Pants. This is a very nice mall aquatic – slightly reminiscent of the extremely worthy and even more extremely discontinued Quiksilver, but with the creamy side of its sandalwood accord toned down. Wish that Wildblue projected a bit more, but I kinda think that would spoil the vibe. Quiksilver is for when you surfed. Wildblue is for when you got a job – and a girlfriend who only wears her bone necklace on beach weekends.
Diagnosis: mall frag. Your copay will be $45, but keep an eye out for sales.
OK – gotta confess. I took advantage of the wife on this one.
My wife wanted some hand cream from L’Occitane, and I wanted to sniff frags. But I didn’t want to buy anything, because I’m looking at some long-awaited purchases. So I used the opportunity to scout around a bit. And when I saw this, I wanted to validate for the umpteenth time that my wife is an amazing detector and QC device for tea frags, as many Asian folks are. If she doesn’t smell tea, it’s a bogus tea frag. And if she says it’s bad, then somebody didn’t do their job.
Her reaction to Thé Vert & Bigarde was EXTREMELY positive. Personally, I’m somewhat middling on it. Not a big fan of green tea, honestly. But my wife is – very much so. And she loves citrus with real character, which this thing has. SO – check this one out, all you lovers of tea scents.
You’ll find that it opens well, holds up well, and dried down well. It’s not Eau de Guerlain, but it’s pretty good stuff. We actually scored the soap on this one, at my insistence, for only $8.
Yeah – I’m a fragrance enabler – I’ll admit it. The pusher is a monster, but the frag enabler is the man with the grassy tea frag in his hand. Right on, brother! Sister. Whatever. Peace. Over and out. We are now in radio silence over the Banana Republic.
***** ***** *****
I’ve had all I can stand from fragrances that are too good for their price. Why the hell did I have to sniff this stuff before leaving L’Occitane? I’ve been impressed by Verdon before, but I waffled on the buy. I had samples, but they got lost in the $200-a-bottle shuffle. Well, I smelled this one again, and almost cursed. Verdon is like some potential lover that you keep passing over because – like an idiot – you always think they aren’t good enough for you. Then they marry somebody rich and famous.
Well, don’t be an idiot like me. Buy this crap.
Verdon is deceptively mainstream, but under the hood, it’s probably the best ode to rock climbing and other forms of outdoor adventurism that has ever been made. It’s a wickedly effective combination of mainstream pleasantry and cool, coniferous poetry. Even the bottle is fit to be thrown into a pack. For those of you who don’t get into that kind of stuff, the Verdon Gorge in France is something of a Euro-Yosemite – and perhaps the premier destination for top climbers in Europe, if not the world. My initial reaction to Verdon – possibly also known as Eau de Verdon due to L’Occitane’s ambivalence – was skepticism. But that didn’t last. I’ve been troubled by this one from the very first sniff. Sooner or later, I’ll be getting a bottle.
At only $42 for 1.7 oz, it’s completely reasonable. Not recommended for extreme fragrance people like myself – you’ll probably curse the stuff, too. Niche lovers who want the real McCoy should stick to anything from Juniper Ridge – much more of a fascinating wear. But if you’re a regular dude who wants to smell normal but good, don’t be afraid to let your wife buy this for you.
Verdon! I hate you! Please come back!
***** ***** ***** *****
The question came up recently – is the original Ralph Lauren Polo still as good as it used to be?
I had to find out for myself. Well, the answer is that it is clearly reformulated relative to my 1980’s vintage. The spices are more subdued, and the cypress smokiness has been tamed. The texture is less prickly – more smoothed out. BUT – and this is the good news – it’s still awesome stuff. The smoothness of the cypress and the restraint of the smokiness are both very, very pleasing. Even to somebody who adores the original formulation.
Now, if you’re a guy who hates modernization of classics, then this stuff is not OK. It is smoother, more “matte” in psycho-osmi-color, rounder, and not nearly as “old man” spicy as the brilliant original was. If you are capable of rocking the vintage stuff, so that people go WTF and then begin to worship your perfect sunglasses, then fuggedaboudit. You know your fashion weaponry, killer. Go for that vintage Polo green.
But if you are just some regular schmoe, and you love Polo, but are afraid to wear your vintage in 2013, then just buy a fresh bottle. It was clearly given a makeover, and that makeover is good. And if you’re still afraid, then check out Modern Reserve. It’s totally safe in today’s fashion forum. A little too much of a leather for my tastes, and it makes me yearn for the real McCoy, but a nice fragrance.
Sheryl Crow told Polo that a change would do him good – and Polo listened.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
OK. This is hard for me, people. I wanted to like this one. And, in some ways I do. But I like it like a good-smelling paperweight – not a fragrance that diminishes any bottle by its own greatness. I want to love fragrance so badly that I want to pour it all over myself, and roll in the puddle like a dog. But it ain’t happening here.
The last Gucci entry that did that to me was Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme. Despite all the bad reviews that one got, I loved it. I still think it’s a wickedly smart modern chypre – a brilliant sneaking of classic beauty into what is damn near a sport fragrance. The shampoo and the aftershave make it even better. That is one fragrance I never want to be without, no matter what anybody says.
But this. OY. It smells reasonable. It’s good on the blotter. It’s good after it dries down. But Made to Measure just fails to excite me. Others have described it as – to sum up multiple opinions – a mish-mash of all the clichés of modern mainstream masculine fragrance, only lighter. Gotta go along with that.
What I was hoping for was something more like Gucci Première. There was a certain understated brilliance to that one that I love. If you’re a woman, try it. If you’re a man, try it when you’re alone and see if you can pull it off. If you can, then I think you’ll find it more pleasing than Made to Measure.
Who knows. Maybe Made to Measure will grow on me. These things do happen. But not yet. If I do end up doing a 180 on it, I’ll let you know.
And while we’re on the subject…
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
I could not pass up a comparison smell of this one. Yes. Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme just strikes me as way more distinctive than Made to Measure. Buy it!
What’s wrong with me? Is super-subtlety and blurry focus now what you have to do in fragrance targeted to the luxury crowd? Is Gucci Guilty Intense – the only recent Gucci I have come close to buying – “for truck-drivers”, to borrow Monsieur Guerlain’s oft-quoted phrase? Why the heck is Made to Measure such a non-fragrance? Are the elite not allowed to wear real fragrance?
Questions. I got ’em.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
ON THE OTHER HAND….
Calvin Klein. This brand is almost synonymous with mediocre to fairly good, synthetic, and reasonably priced fragrances. Every once in a while, however, it comes up with something that borders on classic.
This is not the first time I’ve smelled Dark Obsession, but this time, I’m ready to go to bat for it. If you’re looking for something for the boardroom, pass this baby up quick. Go back up to Made to Measure, which will never offend anybody. Dark Obsession will make you smell like a guy who wants to party. It is linear, it is too distinctive for its own good, and it is simple as hell. It’s an unyielding, unchanging tone that will rub on some people’s consciousness like black grit sandpaper. But if you like the smell, it is stuck on good. It has projection, sillage, and everything you could ask for in a fragrance that is meant to be noticed.
Dark Obsession is brilliant. Not Bulgari Black brilliant – that’s a different thing – a brilliance of moving complexity. This is a brilliance of simplicity – like the pondering of zero. It’s the flat, matte black of a custom racing pipe for a bike. It matches the bottle presentation magnificently. And that is all there is. Nothing more. Flat. Black. It doesn’t even glow in the dark. You could dissect it, but why? Some art resides purely in the illusion, not the mechanics of the magic behind it.
Technically, you can smell the similarity to both CK One Shock and CK Encounter, both of which I thought were decent fragrances. There is almost a line that can be drawn through these three fragrances. But Dark Obsession – somehow – lands at a point that creates the impression of a single, unified scent.
Texture is very important here. There is a fine grittiness to the scent which is as compelling as a catchy tune. I don’t know how else to describe it. Whatever. Somebody clearly wanted me to smell that texture.
Yeah, man. The chicks are gonna show, and we smell awesome. Let’s party – DUDES!
One lady who will not be showing up to Dark Obsession’s pool party is Marni.
Check it out – a new fragrance at Saks which is beautiful, novel, and performs like a champ. This may be one of the best new designer entries in quite a while. And while I may – personally – love the more recently launched Carven more, I have to admit that Marni wins on probably a dozen counts. Marni is not a shy fragrance, nor is it wimpy – a single blotter can keep a room smelling like it for hours. Somebody just dropped the ionone bomb, and it has polka-dots and a red detonator. But it’s a good smell – a sort of grassy rose on steroids, where the grassy and rosy parts are differentiated in some new way, making it unlike all the grassy roses that have gone under this nose before.
The ad campaign is perfect, too. The model looks like the fragrance smells – classy but earthy – unnaturally clean but naturally fresh. Young but not girly, mature and womanly but with innocence intact. The bottle is novel and happy but not quirky. OK – just a little bit quirky. Just the right amount.
So there you have it. Today’s stroll through the mall. Most of the memories have faded, but the smell of Marni on my CREED® blotter reminds me of the best part of fragrance.
I think I’m going to try to find that again. Maybe – somewhere out there – in all the possible crazy reviews that I could write, is a girl with the answers. A kind of innocent person, yet understanding of the universe. Of the way things are, and the way they could be. Classy but earthy. Happy but not quirky.
OK. Maybe just a little bit quirky.